An Ode to Wes Anderson: The Postmodern Auteur

An Ode to Wes Anderson: The Postmodern Auteur

Known for his eccentricity, unique visual and narrative styles, subversion of typical conventions, and frequent use of ensemble casts, Wes Anderson is undoubtedly a modern auteur. An auteur is a film director who has a unique style that is recognizably their own. Anderson has developed a personal stamp on his work, for which he has attained auteur status. These cinematographic elements include deadpan line delivery and rhythmic dialogue, themes of dysfunctional families and unorthodox relationships, perfectly symmetrical shot composition, social commentary, minimalist color palette of sets and costumes, and props. Throughout his films, Anderson attempts to convey a greater message about the need for human connection.

Anderson’s interest in film began in college when he met Owen Wilson at the University of Texas at Austin and they became lifelong friends. They worked on Bottle Rocket together, the first iteration of which was a short film that made it to the Sundance Film Festival and gained so much acclaim that it was then released as a feature film. Some of Anderson’s main influences include Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Satyajit Ray, Hal Ashby, and Roman Polanski. 

Anderson’s films are widely beloved and critically acclaimed. Audiences appreciate his quirks as evidenced by Rushmore achieving “cult status” and being selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Another great success, The Grand Budapest Hotel grossed nearly $175 million worldwide. Anderson has won 76 total awards and won his first Academy Award, Best Live Action Short Film, for The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar at the 2024 Oscars. 

Released in 2001, The Royal Tenenbaums follows the Tenenbaum family in their pursuit of reconnection and reconciliation. After Etheline, a single mother, decides to remarry, estranged Royal comes back into her life and the lives of their children Margot, Richie, and Chas, claiming to have cancer to make up for lost time. The film introduces major themes that appear in most of his subsequent films: dysfunctional families and unorthodox or unrequited love as well as features his signature deadpan line delivery. Richie and Margot’s unorthodox relationship, being adopted siblings, and Etheline and Royal’s, being separated not divorced, are prime examples of how Anderson explores relationships in a complex and nuanced way. 

The paradoxical abnormality of the gray area that Anderson explores endears the viewer to the charm of his world where people are a bit strange and offbeat. Despite the struggles that all of these characters endure, “The Royal Tenenbaums is at heart profoundly silly, and loving… It stands in amazement as the Tenenbaums and their extended family unveil one strategy after another to get attention, carve out space, and find love. It doesn’t mock their efforts, dysfunctional as they are, because it understands them–and sympathizes,” reported American film critic Roger Ebert. The appeal of the film is that it sits on “a knife edge between comedy and sadness. There are big laughs, and then quiet moments when we’re touched. Sometimes we grin at the movie’s deadpan audacity. The film doesn’t want us to feel just one set of emotions.” 

Anderson’s attention to detail is paramount to his style as well. He pays attention to every individual prop, ensuring that every object that appears in a shot is shown and featured in some way.

— Nina Kremer

In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Zero, an illegal refugee, becomes a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel and is mentored by the concierge Gustave. When Gustave is framed for murder, he and Zero set out to prove his innocence. Two important aspects of the film that define Anderson’s style are cinematography and social commentary. Creative and inventive shots are his calling card. According to Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter,  “From the first moment, there’s no mistaking who made this film. Constant lateral tracks, push-ins, whip-pans, [and] camera moves timed to dialogue… are used to pinpoint effect here.” Anderson composes each individual shot with painstaking concentration as if it were a photograph, no shot lacks visual interest, no detail is overlooked and every single one is a piece of art in and of itself. 

Anderson also makes use of nostalgia from decades that precede his own memory and takes inspiration from the commentary of other writers and artists such as “Stefan Zweig, whose inspiration Anderson credits onscreen as a prime instigation for this project,” reported McCarthy. Zweig was an Austrian writer in the 1920s and 1930s whose novels, Beware of Pity and The Post-Office Girl Anderson references. Through his allusions to Zweig’s work, Anderson explores societal structures and issues. This exploration of the contrast between the high society characters and the criminal activity that they engage in is a commentary on the hypocrisy of the social hierarchy of the time.

His most visually stunning film, The French Dispatch follows three different stories published in the final issue of “The French Dispatch,” a fictionalized version of The New Yorker. Set design, color, and props play an important role in this film. The three parts of the story allow Anderson to flex his world-building muscles as film critic Sheila O’Malley reported, “Each story is told with its own style, with Anderson utilizing animation, graphics, still lifes, visual puns, and gags.” Despite the differences between the vignettes, all of the sets and costumes adhere to a strict color palette, which creates an immersive world and cohesion in an otherwise scattered story, bringing together a diverse cast of characters into one collective ensemble. 

According to O’Malley, Anderson makes “prosaic everyday objects transform…He views objects the way the artist Joseph Cornell viewed them. Cornell was an obsessive collector of what was deemed junk… Anderson’s objects glow from his detailed attention: he cares about each and every one of them.” Cornell’s art consisted of boxes in which he placed a collection of items in order to tell a story. Anderson’s films are similar to Cornell’s boxes, as they too are collages of seemingly disjointed elements strung together to create meaning. Like Cornell, Anderson’s attention to detail is a key feature of his work because he is able to make this “junk” into a meaningful storytelling tool.  

Wes Anderson is one of the modern examples of an auteur because of his easily recognizable trademark style as a triple-threat screenwriter, director, and cinematographer. As he said himself, “Usually when I’m making a movie, what I have in mind… is how we can stage the scenes to bring them more to life in the most interesting way, and then how we can make a world for the story that the audience hasn’t quite been in before.” Through his commitment to upholding his directorial identity throughout the stories that he tells, Wes Anderson has created an entirely unique filmography and legacy.

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